So, what is postfeminism anyway?

Postfeminism is a bit of a funny term. It probably has almost as many meanings as feminism does… ie. a lot. Within the feminist literature I have read, definitions tend to fall into two categories:

1) “death of feminism”, “anti-feminism”, “feminism is irrelevant now”
2) the next stage in feminism, or feminism that intersects with other “post-” philosophies/theories, such as postmodernism, poststructuralism and postcolonialism.

Very commonly, postfeminism is understood as meaning “after feminism”. In the popular media it is sometimes used disparagingly, as if feminism is no longer needed. How many more “Is Feminism Dead?” articles do we need to read?!? And politicians love to get in on the feminism-bashing. For example, John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia once said “We are in the post-feminist stage of the debate”. He reckoned that the feminist battle had been won. Pfft, is all I can say to that. Pfft, Howard, AS IF.

Howard’s use of “post-feminist” is certainly *not* how I understand the term, nor how I intend to use it on this blog. Feminism is not dead. It is very much still needed and very much alive.

But the “after feminism” idea doesn’t have to be seen as a negative. What I like about the idea of postfeminism is that it can help to situate contemporary feminism as a continuation of the long history of the women’s movement.

I use postfeminism in a positive sense. For me it helps make sense of the times we live in. Women and men of my age have grown up after the heights of the “first wave” and “second wave” of the women’s movement and have therefore benefitted from many of the things that feminists fought for in previous generations. (Examples include: women being able to vote and go to university, establishment of things such as rape crisis centres and in Australia, legislation such as the Sexual Discrimination Act. There are many more examples.[1])

There is also a large body of writing and activism that calls itself the “third wave” of feminism. This stage of feminism began in the 1990s and, broadly speaking, it sought to challenge some of second wave feminism’s essentialist view of femininity. It was also responding to media claims that feminism was dead and no longer relevant to young women.

What I don’t like about the “wave” metaphor is that it tends to pit feminists against one another based on their age. Self-proclaimed second wave feminists make claims about how young women aren’t carrying on the feminist baton appropriately. And self-proclaimed third wave feminists make sweeping claims about what second wave feminism represented, without always acknowledging that it was a very diverse and complex stage in the women’s movement.

So, this is where postfeminism comes in. I don’t use postfeminism to describe the “next stage” or “next wave” of feminism. I use it as a way of trying to understand how feminism is constantly shifting and evolving, without resorting to age-based bickering.

I think I’ll leave it there for now. Postfeminism means more than what I’ve briefly outlined here. The generational debates within feminism were the starting point in my dissertation, so I thought it a useful place to start my postfeminist ponderings online.

_________
[1] We must keep in mind that these examples are generally benefits for Western women, and that even between Western nations, there are stark differences in things like legislative changes and the types of feminist debates and activism that occur. The wikipedia links above are very US-focused.

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16 Responses to “So, what is postfeminism anyway?”

  1. Kristian Says:

    Wow. This is awesome! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I agree with you wholeheartedly with the problematic nature of “waves”. It seems obvious to me that social movements, especially those that have, as feminism does, over a hundred years of activism and theory behind it, are going to develop, indeed change, their internal theoretical and practical stances.

    If we compare the history of Philosophy to the history of Feminism, I think it’d be the case that you would equally find “waves” within Philosophy, but it’s not represented as oppositional – but rather it’s a continual refinement/improvement of ideas (kind of like the scientific progress). Sure things can get heated in philosophy (the Philosophy department here had a great dust-up years ago that split the department in two)… but the fact that we still refer to the ancient philosophers, despite all their problems and inaccuracies, I think speaks to an understanding of this natural theoretical progression.

    So, that’s one thought.

    The other thought I had was regards to the name postfeminist. The usage of the word I normally go for is 1), mainly because works for me as a tool for cultural analysis. I particularly like McRobbie’s use of the term “taking account” – postfeminism is the taking account of feminism, “Yes, of course this ad is sexist, but nonetheless, are we not all empowered by feminism these days, so that we can still show it?”

    I find 2) problematic because I wonder why there is the need to disavow the word “feminism” by Posting it.

    For example, Ann Brooks says that the Post in Post feminism operates in the same sense that the Post in Postcolonial/Postmodern works. That is to say, it’s a critical/oppositional response to colonialism/modernism. She says that Postfeminism is in the same way a critical/oppositional response to patriarchy. So, why not call it postpatriarchism? or something.

    She also argues that postfeminism is a maturation of feminist theory (in particular, the recognition of the historical intersection of oppression(s)), again, in this sense, the post works differently to postcolonialism… we wouldn’t say that postcolonial theory is a “maturation” of colonial theory… Postmodernism isn’t just a new type of modernism…

    So, I think the name is a bit unusual – sure, Feminism has matured theoretically and now does address issues of intersectionality etc, but I don’t know quite why that must mean it’s POSTED.

    etc etc blah blah!

  2. doctorpen Says:

    Thanks K! (You are First Comment!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    You raise a number of good points, especially the question about whether feminism should (or shouldn’t) be “posted”. I was very hesitant about titling the blog “postfeminist” for many of the same reasons you outline. And I don’t go around actually calling myself a “postfeminist”.

    I used postfeminism in my thesis in a rather complicated way, I think. It’s not a simple straight-forward term and I am often still confused by it. This entry only really touches on one aspect of my understanding of postfeminism, ie. as “post-second-wave”.

    And in this sense I don’t mean postfeminism to be the next stage in feminism, because that implies a progress narrative that I am unsure about. I guess I would be wary of Brooks’ assertion of PF being a maturation of F, because that kinda says that earlier feminisms were rubbish. I don’t really see the point in bagging out feminist theoretical or philosophical approaches from the past. I don’t think it really gets us anywhere, and in fact, it continues to set up and “us” and “them” mentality, which is what I find so annoying about the ‘wave’ debates.

    I do quite like the way McRobbie talks about “feminism taken into account”. I have a slightly more positive spin on postfeminism than she does, but I still have a lot to learn from her. (Incidentally, we’ll be using some of her work on postfeminism in the gender course I’m going to be tutoring this semester!)

    Thanks for engaging with my new blog!! I look forward to more in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Alice Says:

    This is fantastic!

  4. 2010 in review: some blog stats « Pondering Postfeminism Says:

    […] So, what is postfeminism anyway? January 20103 comments 4 […]

  5. Kittin Savage Says:

    Hi, I’m just passing by, and I think that the issues raised here are extremely of great importance but I would like to suggest:

    1) Amelia Jones has extensively argued for a re-evaluation of the term Post-feminism. I never make use of this word, instead I use the word Para-feminism, which Jones coins in her book Self/Image. The “post” suffixed to the word Feminism implies its redundancy and death. Therefore:

    2) Susan Faludi wrote a groundbreaking book titled Backlash_The undeclared War against Women. This is definitely worth a read and highlights a lot of the shortcomings of what is easily called “post” feminist.

    3) Female Chauvinist Pigs- The Rise of the Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy documents the shift in paradigms; women believing false empowerment is the key to sex and gender equality.

    There are so many various other pieces I have found inspiring and honest. I believe now, more than ever, we ought to keep the fight alive.

  6. second wave of feminism Says:

    feminism…

    […]So, what is postfeminism anyway? « Pondering Postfeminism[…]…

  7. Michelle Says:

    Please i really need your help..ma’am are you on facebook. I really need your guidance as i am pursuing my PhD on postfeminism..

  8. Susan Dunstall Says:

    Just found this blog and not sure if it’s still active? I’m a former academic, keen to reinvigorate my brain – so not too keyed-in to current debate, but keen to pick it up again. Anyway … my two penn’orth, for what it’s worth: I object to the idea of post-feminism because of the inference that women have, in some way, “got there”, when we clearly haven’t.

    Firstly, the feminist perspective has become too tied-in to a blinkered, and dare I say dominantly capitalist, paradigm. Thus, in the West / North the idea that feminism has been “achieved” is dominantly located in the idea of financial success and independence, rather than the deep cultural change that feminism is about. As a result too many women achievers manage to achieve because of the legions of other women supporting them: cleaners; nannies; teachers ….. what choices do these women have? And how much of these “achievers” really “achieved”? Most GP’s in the UK are now women. Success? NO. They’re women who choose general practice so they can work part time and fit it round the family. Most primary teachers are women, most primary HEAD teachers are men … I could go on.

    Secondly, how can we apply the idea of post-feminism to most of the world?

    During the 70’s, as a teenager and young woman, my feminism would have been seen as rather soft – I was a long way from radical – though I had and have benefit of some of the more radical thinkers all those decades ago.

    Now, almost 60, I find myself at the more radical end of the spectrum. It may be that I’m just an argumentative old woman – or it maybe that I can see just how many steps back we have taken from that great second wave of pioneers.

    Whatever – make no mistake – they’re still out there, waiting to oppress us!

    • doctorpen Says:

      Hi Susan,

      Sorry for the late reply and comment approval. This blog is still running, but as I have a young baby now, I don’t have as much time to dedicate to this blog as I once did.

      I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. I never intend to use post-feminism to mean that feminism is over or not needed. In fact, as you say, I think it is as much needed as ever.

      Thanks for your comments. I’d love to get back into this blog thing properly soon. It’s just a matter of making some time/headspace to write. Bit tricky sometimes!

      Cheers,
      Pen

      • Susan Dunstall Says:

        Hello Pen

        Thanks so much for finding the time to get back to me. I well remember the rigours of of babies (three step children and one of my own, the youngest now 29 – where did those years go?!), so I understand that a blog on post-feminism may not be top of your agenda right now!

        Still, it’s good to re-exercise my brain. As an ex-pat I’m France with a basic grasp of the language (though I’m working on that), conversations about feminism are few and far between. Notwithstanding de Beauvoir, the heart of rural France remains somewhat unreconstructed and the ex-pat group with which I flirt from time to time would not, I think, be up for a ‘Special Interest’ group on the topic – they’re more gardening and patchwork types – and lovely occupations though they are I don’t find they stretch the grey-matter!

        Anyway, I’ve just dug out my rather dog-eared copy of Faludi’s ‘Backlash’ and think I might give it an outing.

        When you have time I’d welcome a reading list / journal references. Meanwhile, enjoy the baby – they don’t stay small for long!

        Best S

  9. lpskater Says:

    Reblogged this on "You're Just a Silly Woman" and commented:
    Interesting article on Post-Feminism

  10. writeactplay1 Says:

    I liked your post, it reminded me of the Post-racism issue the media talked about while President Obama was campaigning. THere is no post -racism, racism still exists and is jsut stronger in other communities than others. It’s very visible if you want to see it, just like feminism or maybe I should say just like sexism. THere is still a need for feminism or womanist theories to continue to be discussed and fought for. Women as we have seen in this course and in throughout the media are still oppressed, maybe not as often as we have been in the past but as the Virigina Slims cigarette ads used to say, “You’ve come a long way baby!” We just have to finish the journey!

    • doctorpen Says:

      thank you for your comment. Couldn’t agree more! ๐Ÿ™‚ The “post” is definitely a tricky prefix to use, and I do so with lots of caveatsโ€ฆ I certainly never mean it to mean that feminism is no longer needed, because it so clearly is.

  11. Week 3: Post-feminism | Debates in Media Studies Group 4 Says:

    […] means and how it relates to the world, we looked at another blog that dealt with the subject (https://postfeminist.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/so-what-is-postfeminism-anyway/). Here the author defines postfeminism in her own words and focuses on how it has been depicted in […]

  12. F This | moose moose moose Says:

    […] grossly problematic, hope is not all lost! The emergence of post-feminism (I prefer this definition here) and third wave feminism in more recent years have led to some really quality female-centric shows […]

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